Pushy sideline parents and over competitive clubs are putting children off sport.
An Oireachtas committee also heard sporting clubs were losing underage players because of a win-only ethos.
The chairman of the joint committee on children and youth affairs, Alan Farrell, said competitive behaviour on the sideline, primarily by parents “acted as a barrier” to participation in sport.
Mr Farrell said he had witnessed over-competitive behaviour on the sideline at both GAA and soccer games and it was putting off other parents from continuing to bring their children to them.
“It is a bit of an issue,” said Mr Farrell, who said it should be tackled.
Responding, the GAA’s community and health manager, Colin Regan said: “I would go a little bit further and say it is a big issue.”
In April, following a number of incidents at underage games, which included a sideline punch-up between parents and mentors, and parents threatening a referee, the GAA wrote to clubs in Cork asking them to remind coaches and parents to “act responsibly”.
Mr Regan said the GAA introduced the Respect Initiative in 2009 that outlines the behaviour that is expected on the sidelines in the organisation’s grounds.
“It has not had the impact that we would have hoped that it would have at this stage,” he admitted.
Mr Regan said the GAA launched a new three-year strategic plan last Friday and it explicitly calls for a rigid implementation of the Respect Initiative.
Earlier, Mr Farrell claimed a sporting organisation in north county Dublin lost hundreds of children because of its competitive ethos at underage level.
“There are two other clubs that have gained hundreds of members because of the competitive nature of the one club that started at U12,” he said.
Mr Farrell said children should be encouraged to participate in sport up to a certain age where there is no competition involved.
He believed they should be “given a run” at every game or every second game.
It was not good enough that a sporting organisation excluded a child who trained as hard as everybody else and showed up week in, week out, hoping for a game.
“I am not targeting the GAA at all; it is right across the spectrum of sporting clubs,” he said.
Mr Regan said, unfortunately, some coaches in their clubs still sought to live vicariously through the under-age teams they worked with.
He told the committee the association was working towards a “sea change” in attitudes towards competitiveness at under-age level.
All coaches working with juvenile teams now received foundation level coaching but he admitted it would take “a generation” to deliver the cultural and philosophical change that was needed.
Mr Regan said 220 clubs were participating in the GAA’s Healthy Club Project, established in 2013, that supports clubs in becoming “hubs for health” in their community.
“We see that project being a further antidote to the ‘win at all costs’ ethos that can carry across all codes,” he said.
Mr Regan said the GAA had turned down a number of approaches from food companies in recent years because they did not feel that they reflected their values.
Even when they began their relationship with Kellogg’s for their Cúl Camps they sat down with their own dieticians to decide on the eating recommendations and nutritional guidelines that appear on the website.
However, Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone said: “I am probably a bit of a hardliner, but most of their (Kellogg’s) cereals are full of sugar.”
Mr Regan said Kelloggs provided a number of options that would “more than fall within the acceptable parameters.”
Mr Regan said 147,467 children participated in Kelloggs GAA Cúl Camps last year, an increase of 11.5% on 2016. “You have to weigh that up against it,” he said.
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